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20 June, 2024
 
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Far-right and conservatives gain momentum in Europe

Europe's political landscape shifts as far-right rises

George Kakouris

George Kakouris

The far-right and conservative parties are gaining strength across Europe, while the possibility of reaching up to 29% of the seats in the European Parliament is visible, explains to "K" Tobias Gerhard Schminke, founder of the platform for collecting electoral data Europe Elects.

However, he stresses, the dominance of the center-right European People's Party and the Social Democrats at EU level is hardly overturned, while the cooperation of the conservative and far-right parties would be a difficult undertaking given their essential differences.

Answering questions from "K" on the occasion of the latest forecasts for the European elections in December, Mr. Schminke also referred to the reasons why the Greens appear to be retreating across Europe, pointing out that a large part of their strength depends on the performance of the Greens in Germany.

Mr. Schminke also referred to the phenomenon of pan-European parties such as Volt, noting that at EU level it remains a small effort, but that its entry into the House of Representatives can help it upgrade its profile.

The forecast of the results of Europe Elects (europelects.eu/ep2024) reflects the strength that the political groups would have if the European elections were held today, on the basis of all the polls conducted at national level. The platform was created in 2014 by Mr. Schminke, a PhD candidate in political science at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada.

Do the polls across Europe show a trend of rising conservatives (ECR) and far-right (ID) in a "third pole"?

The forecasts do show a continuing upward trend for the radical right in Europe. The conservative ECR is expected to win about 11.3% of the seats, that is, about two percentage points above the percentage it has today. The group "Identity and Democracy" or ID of Le Pen and Salvini is expected to win 12.9%, an increase of 4.4 points.

And we should not forget the non-aligned with a political group far-right parties, such as the Hungarian Fidesz and the groups of neo-Nazis - they are expected to increase from about 3% today to over 5%. That is, a total gain of eight points reaching 29% of the seats for the radical right.

In an era of climate crisis, what do you think explains the fact that the "green wave" that many expected in 2019 was not that big, and the current retreat of the Greens in many countries?

We must remember that it is difficult to estimate the real strength of the Greens, because they are very strong in mobilizing their voters during the pre-election campaigns for the European elections. While they are weaker in the polls for the national parliaments (which still dominate our model due to the lack of polls for the European elections), their voters appear in the European elections. This is why their forecasts have slightly underestimated them in the past.

However, a significant majority of Greens come from Germany, where the main member party of the group co-governs and the governing parties tend to be punished in the European elections. But I cannot stress enough the extent to which the Greens (Greens/EFA) depend on good performances in Germany. They need to build more successful parties in Eastern and Southern Europe.

Does the traditional balance of the dominance of the EPP and the S&D at EU level seem to be shifting? Has Renew managed to become a liberal centrist "third pole" or, given the rise of the ECR and ID, is it losing its influence?

It would be difficult for anyone to reach the levels of the center-right EPP and the center-left S&D. EPP (179 projected seats) and S&D (146 projected seats) are expected to remain stable at about their current seats, and remain much larger than the other groups. Identity and Democracy (93 projected seats), Renew (84 projected seats) or ECR (81 projected seats) are currently competing for third place.

A possible strategy for rising to second place would be to draw supporters from other groups. However, the political parties are quite stable. A possible scenario would be for the ECR to attract Reconquete from France and Fidesz from Hungary. Both parties have stated their intention to join for months, but never did despite the fact that they are already represented in the European Parliament. This would add another 17 seats to the group, raising the ECR to 98 seats - still about 50 seats behind the S&D.

Another idea that is discussed is the merger of the ECR and the ID, but the two parties are still divided on the issue of Euro-Atlantic integration. Russia's invasion of Ukraine highlighted these disagreements, with the ECR being largely in favor of military support to Ukraine, while Le Pen and AfD in the ID show less enthusiasm. The members of the ECR are also more willing to cooperate with the EPP and Renew.

Of course, a group ECR - ID would push the radical right to become the second largest group in the European Parliament, possibly even the largest. But historically the differences between the two groups are too great to be overcome.

What do you expect to be the main issues of the pre-election agenda of the European elections across Europe?

There is no definitive answer to this question, as different countries and regions may have different priorities and concerns. However, some possible issues that could be relevant for the European elections are:

  • The recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic and social impacts. The EU has launched a massive recovery plan, called NextGenerationEU, which aims to support the green and digital transitions, as well as the resilience and cohesion of the member states. How this plan will be implemented and monitored, and how the funds will be distributed and used, could be a matter of debate and scrutiny for the European voters and candidates.
  • The climate crisis and the EU's ambition to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. The EU has adopted a comprehensive set of policies and measures, known as the European Green Deal, which covers various sectors and aspects of the economy and society, such as energy, transport, agriculture, industry, biodiversity, circular economy, and more. The European Green Deal also includes a proposal for a European Climate Law, which would enshrine the 2050 climate neutrality goal into binding legislation. The progress and challenges of the European Green Deal, as well as its implications for the EU's global leadership and cooperation on climate action, could be a key topic for the European elections.
  • The future of Europe and the EU's role in the world. The EU is facing multiple internal and external challenges, such as the rise of populism and nationalism, the rule of law and democracy crises in some member states, the Brexit aftermath, the migration and asylum pressures, the geopolitical tensions and conflicts in the neighborhood and beyond, the competition and cooperation with global powers such as the US, China, and Russia, and the promotion and protection of the EU's values and interests in the world. The European elections could be an opportunity for the European citizens and candidates to express their views and visions on the future of Europe and the EU's role in the world, and to shape the direction and priorities of the EU for the next five years.

In the context of the Eurobarometer, voters are asked which two issues they consider the most important for the EU. 28% believe that the war in Ukraine is among the two most important issues. Another 28% also chooses migration, an increase of 4 percentage points from May - June and a significant increase of 11 points from winter.

The global situation ranks third with 24%, showing a decrease of 1 percentage point. while the issues of the environment and climate change gathered 16%, with a decrease of 6 percentage points. Inflation also decreased in importance from 27 to 20% and from third to sixth place.

Can European parties and political groups develop coherent political agendas or will regional differences in political culture always be too great?

Trans-European formations such as Volt, which try to develop a pan-European campaign, are more successful than similar efforts in the past. The takeover by Volt of a seat in the parliament of Cyprus can help it to upgrade its profile in the country in the context of the European elections. It is already the third national parliament in which they enter, after Bulgaria and the Netherlands.

According to current forecasts, they will enter the European Parliament with two, perhaps three or four seats. Currently, they hold one. I think no other effort has managed to achieve something like this. At the same time, however, 3 out of the 705 seats are minimal.

This example shows that, while pre-election campaigns remain national affairs, they are Europeanized on the margins. Europe Elects also shows this trend, given that we address an audience across the continent, and not just a national audience.

Finally, what are the trends for the Left?

This political group is of particular interest to Cyprus, as a member of it is one of the historical parties of power in the country, which was in recession and today is trying to recover.

The Group of the Left has today 38 members in the European Parliament, which has 705 seats. Now in our forecast they move around 36 seats, in a European Parliament with 720 seats. Thus, while the parliament grows, the number of members of the Left group is expected to shrink slightly.

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

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